Print Friendly and PDF With Strings Attached: Newbery Reviews

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Newbery Reviews

by Eric P. Kelly 

1461: unrest in Ukraine* forces the Charnetski family to flee their estate and find refuge in Krakow. Joseph's father becomes the trumpeter in the church tower, playing the Hejnal every hour. (It's still done; look on YouTube here.) There are good guys (scholars and alchemists), iffy guys (necromancers -- a great vocabulary word), bad guys (foreign thugs), and a devastating fire. There's a treasure to guard. It's an exciting tale. 

I was glad that this edition of Trumpeter had an introduction (from 1966) to provide context, though further online research provides evidence that the author may have created the legend of the "unfinished tune." 

What really, really bothers me is that the family brings the treasure hidden in a pumpkin. A hollowed-out shell is indeed a good hiding place. BUT pumpkins are native to North America. How did a pumpkin get to a farm in Ukraine in 1461? Has no one else noticed this anachronism in the 87 years since the book was published?**

*In the book it's "the Ukraine," but the "the" is incorrect.
**Yes, at least one person has: here 

DOBRY (1935)
by Monica Shannon

A snapshot of life in a Bulgarian farming village, presumably just after WWI. Dobry lives with his widowed mother and his grandfather. They expect that he will continue the family tradition and be a farmer, but he discovers a passion for art. His break from expectations is paralleled by the changes in society (there are hints of the larger world outside the village). The story is disjointed -- suddenly it is "four years later," and Dobry is an adolescent. Grandfather is a great raconteur who needs little encouragement tell a tale, the taller the better. 

Artanas Katchamakoff's illustrations are inconsistent -- lithographs in a Soviet (or Eastern European) 'brutish' style but also lighter line drawings of episodes from the story.  (And the caption for one of them is incorrect -- an error perpetuated for 80 years?)

I read a 1964 reprint of the 1934 original. Perhaps subsequent editions have notes and references to provide more context. 

by Elizabeth Forman Lewis  

Set in the provincial city of Chungking in the 1920's, a time of social change and political unrest throughout China, this is the story of Young Fu, apprenticed to a coppersmith. He survives temptations, bandits, thieves, and unscrupulous coworkers.  I got a better understanding of the milieu that gave rise to communism.  

I read a 2007 edition that has two prefaces -- by Katherine Paterson and Pearl S. Buck, both of whom lived in China about the time of the story. There are also helpful endnotes that explain the traditional customs and compare them to Mao-era and current times. 

I enjoyed this more now than I would have had I read it when I was in grade school, I think.

This is the original cover, with illustrations by Kurt Wiese.


  1. I am enjoying your reviews (and criticism). So far I haven't read any, but I think Trumpeter of Krakow is in the family book collection. I'm going to try to dig it out.

  2. Thanks for the reviews. I was so intrigued by your notes on "Young Fu" that I immediately snarfed up a copy of the 2007 edition on Amazon.

  3. It looks like many of the Newbery's during this time period were set in different cultures. Today author's would do research to verify information, especially in historical fiction. Wonder how it was fact checked in the early days? None of these books strike my fancy.


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